Shells

I realize it’s been sweets overload here this month.  It’s been over two weeks since I posted something that wasn’t loaded with sugar.  The window for holiday treats is just so small that it’s hard not to post one treat after another.  We have been eating real food though – actual meals and all that, but another complication is the lack of any natural light after about 4:30 pm, which makes it hard to photograph the food we are eating.  I’ll warn you now that I have several sweet treats to share this week leading up to Christmas, and I hope you’ll come back to check them out.  In the meantime, how about a one-day reprieve from all the sweetness?

Shells

Among the meals we have been eating this month are things that I can easily make ahead of time that will feed us for several days.  Last weekend it was a pork shoulder that we cooked in the crockpot until it was perfectly tender; pulled pork was on the menu for at least three days afterward so luckily we don’t tire of it quickly.  Stuffed shells have also been popular this month, which is funny because I could probably count on one hand how many times we’ve eaten stuffed shells in the past year.  It’s like I’ve rediscovered how they delicious they are, and how easily they can be thrown together.  This batch, made using a recipe from Giada de Laurentiis, was shared with friends of ours who just had a baby.  I kept a few here to try and really enjoyed them, maybe even more than I thought I might.  If you’re worried about the artichokes, I didn’t find they added a ton of flavor to the dish, mostly texture.  In fact I’m pretty confident Shane would have eaten these had he not seen me making them and been fully aware there were artichokes involved.  The sauce is only slightly spicy, and works nicely with the ground turkey filling.  You can prep the shells ahead of time and freeze the entire pan until you’re ready to bake them, or alternatively, I’ve baked the shells and reheated the leftovers in the microwave with good success, though you might want to add a bit of extra sauce if you go that route as they have a tendency to dry out a bit in the microwave.    

Shells

Turkey and Artichoke Stuffed Shells with Arrabbiata Sauce
from Giada de Laurentiis (via FoodNetwork.com)

1 (12-oz) box jumbo pasta shells
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 pound ground turkey
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus 1/2 teaspoon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1/4 teaspoon
1 (8 to 10-oz) package frozen artichokes, thawed and coarsely chopped
1 (15-oz) container ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

5 cups Arrabbiata Sauce, recipe follows
1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella (about 5 ounces)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and partially cook until tender but still very firm to the bite, stirring occasionally (check the package instructions for times).  Drain the shells and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and the garlic and cook until the onions are soft and starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Add the ground turkey, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is browned and cooked through. Add the artichoke hearts and stir to combine. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large bowl combine the cooled turkey mixture with the ricotta cheese, Parmesan cheese, eggs, basil, parsley, and the remaining salt and pepper.

Cover the bottom of a 9 by 13 by 2-inch baking dish with 1 cup of the Arrabbiata sauce.  Take a shell in your hand and stuff it with the turkey/artichoke mixture, about 2 tablespoons per shell.  Place the shell in the baking dish.  Repeat with the remaining shells until the baking dish is full.  Drizzle the remaining 4 cups of Arrabbiata sauce over the shells and then top with the mozzarella.  At this point, you can freeze the shells for up to a month by covering the baking pan with plastic wrap then aluminum foil and placing it in the freezer. 

Preheat the oven to 400 F.  Bake until the shells are warmed through and the cheese is beginning to brown, about 60 minutes for frozen shells or 20 minutes if you bake them immediately after prepping.

Arrabbiata Sauce

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces sliced pancetta, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 cups jarred or homemade marinara sauce

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the pancetta and saute until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds – 1 minute.  Add the marinara sauce and red pepper flakes and bring to a simmer. Remove from heat and let cool until ready to use.

Makes about 6 cups of sauce